Please: Is it really necessary to protest a movie in which a mentally challenged mumble-mouth named Beetlejuicethe homunculitic Howard Stern misfit, not the Tim Burton creationis the flick’s best hope for Oscar consideration? Apparently, the 15,000 members of the Towson, Md.-based Immune Deficiency Foundation think so. Calling for a nationwide boycott, the disgruntled organization believes that the harmlessly daft Bubble Boyabout a Zip-Loc’d teen who embarks on a road trip to rescue his about-to-marry childhood sweetieis a crass injustice to all those born without germ-fighting immunities. I, on the other hand, simply see Bubble Boy as the perfect showcase for a shitfaced, malformed, barely audible black dwarf.
Jake Gyllenhaaldrawing inspiration from such varied sources as Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore and Adam Sandler in The Waterboyplays the 17-year-old Jimmy Livingston, who has grown weary of living in an inflatable room watching Land of the Lost reruns and listening to his Reaganite mother (Swoosie Kurtz) pottymouth the able-bodied beauty next door. When that saucer-eyed neighbor, Chloe (Marley Shelton), finally comes calling, Jimmy realizes that he’s met his soul mate and will do anything, even the unthinkable, to keep her.
After a falling-in-love montage that involves Jimmy performing such heartwarming rites of adolescence as hammering his hard-on with a baseball bat, the otherwise clear-thinking Chloe informs her imprisoned pal that she’s running off to Niagara Falls to get hitched to an ape-draped thug. Within minutes of her departureor at least the duration of an angry boy-band tune that somehow didn’t make it onto the American Pie 2 soundtrackJimmy builds himself a mobile bubble suit, squeezes out the front door, and steps in a pile of shit. “Dog poo!” he exclaims. “This is awesome!” Yes, indeed: The bubble boy is freefor the first time in his lifeto pursue the woman of his Saran Wrap’d dreams.
Because there’s an official mandate in Hollywood decreeing that movies released into the dead cinema sea of August shouldn’t have plots, first-time director Blair Hayes is able to forgo both the basics of storytelling and geographical knowledge of the United States. (Nevada and Nebraska aren’t connected, are they?) Instead, he settles for a nonstop barrage of his titular hero getting slammed by a bus, thrown off a motorcycle, attacked by a vulture, tossed in a mosh pit, pummeled by female wrestlers, dropped from a plane, and, for the big finale, washed over the side of the world’s most famous waterfall. Needless to say, sixth-graders are gonna love this stuff.
Oh sure, along with getting bounced around like an unbreakable beach ball, Jimmy encounters plenty of well-meaning weirdos on his journeyan affable biker gang, a shiny-happy Up With People-type cult, and a troupe of circus freaks led by the unnervingly ubiquitous Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer. And all of these in-pursuit characters always seem to know exactly where Jimmy is headed for next, even though he doesn’t have a clue himself. (Believe me, this makes for one crazy chase scene at the end.) But the film never really finds its proper balance until the thoroughly confused Beetlejuice, as the 40-swilling Li’l Zip, gets to cut loose with some acting chops; his big line (I’m paraphrasing here), “Marmph looga ass!” is destined to be a schoolyard classic.
If anything, Bubble Boy is entirely sympathetic to its hero and those who are equally encased. Hell, Jimmy’s swinging pad back home makes John Travolta’s digs in 1976’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble look like a Tupperware bowl. And it’s not ruining anything to say that Jimmyimmune deficiencies, bad hair, and alldoes indeed get the girl in the end. Besides, it’s all those circus freaks out there who should really be pissed.
If Beetlejuice had a role in the pathetic Tommy Hilfiger-
ad-as-Western American Outlaws, well, that would be something worth watching. But where to put him? The role of young Jesse James has been taken by emotionally vacuous Irish actor Colin Farrell (think Treat Williams with a shrunken head). And there’s already a misshapen miscreant as Jesse’s volatile sidekick, Cole Younger (Scott Caan, who displays all the acting subtlety of his father playing drunken grab-ass at the Playboy Mansion). Maybe he could be Beetle James, the tetched cousin who bravely gallops into one of the clumsily edited, tension-deficient action scenes that pop up whenever director Les Mayfield gets flustered with his inability to string together a simple narrative. Yeah, that might work just fine.
In this limp-dick Young Guns wannabeyou know a movie sucks when you long for Lou Diamond Phillipsa teenage Jesse, after killing a whole lotta nasty Yankees in the Civil War, returns to his Liberty, Mo., home to take care of the family farm and woo the town doctor’s comely daughter (Varsity Blues’ Ali Larter, who is given such powerhouse exit lines as “I’m goin’ to go cry now” because squirting a few tears on camera is a thespianic impossibility).
But just as Jesse, brother Frank, and the rest of the buff gangall bloodthirsty bank robbers and saboteurs, but really cute ‘n’ sweet ‘n’ God-fearin’ onesare taking their shirts off and engaging in some sweat-streaked homoerotic horseplay, the baddies from the Rock Island Railroad ride into town. Led by the infamous, and apparently inept, crimefighter Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton), they demand that the good people of Liberty pick up and clear out in the name of transcontinental transportation. This upsets Jesse to no end, forcing him and his utterly forgettable pals to kill every last one of Pinkerton’s detectiveswho, it should be noted, are the most inept gunslingers since Don Knotts and Tim Conway rode with the Apple Dumpling Gang.
Even without the presence of comic mastermind Beetlejuice, American Outlaws does have the flat-out funniest scene of the summerthough the comedy is, alas, unintentional. Kathy Bates, doing only the slightest variation on her crazy-squirrel-lady routine from Rat Race, plays the James boys’ corpulent, doddering mama. When railroad tycoon Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) blows up her home, Bates somehow manages to stumble out of the flaming wreckage, sputtering smoke and covered in soot but with her hair still neatly coiffed. As her boys hover over her like stoners at a Phish concert, Bates stares up into the sky and saysdramatic pause, big inhalation”Why, lookit that, the good Lord’s a bit shorter than I reckoned.” Aw, jeez: It’s moments like these that give authority-hating, ammo-stockpiling reactionaries a bad name. CP